Gambler alleges constitutional rights violated
Resorts World surveillance photos subpoenaed by gambler R.J. Cipriani show him approaching a casino cage on Nov. 19. 2021, while Robert Alexander looks on.
Professional gambler R.J. Cipriani says Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Suzan Baucum violated his rights as a criminal defendant by refusing to allow him to view the proceedings against him at a preliminary hearing Thursday and revoking his bail based on misinformation.
Cipriani also alleges Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson is railroading his prosecution at the behest of Resorts World Las Vegas and its general counsel Gerald Gardner. He’s asking Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford to investigate.
Gardner, Wolfson and Baucum did not respond to requests for comment. Baucum and Wolfson are both seeking re-election.
Cipriani, who goes by Robin Hood 702 and is known for distributing his gambling winnings to people in need, was arrested last November after he took a cell phone from Robert Alexander, who Cipriani says was harassing him for weeks by taking video of him gambling in the Resorts World casino.
Alexander is a felon awaiting sentencing for bilking $1.3 million from investors in Kizzang, an online gaming company. Cipriani, an FBI source for more than a decade, says he was instrumental in Alexander’s prosecution.
Cipriani says he’s being targeted for bringing law enforcement’s attention to Resorts World. He says he reported Alexander’s gambling at the hotel to the FBI.
Resorts World contributed $10,000 to Wolfson in December 2021, a month after Cipriani’s arrest. The same day Gardner contributed $1000. The hotel’s president Scott Sibella contributed $5,000 in January. It was Sibella’s only political contribution since 2018 and his first ever to Wolfson.
On Thursday, Baucum prevented Cipriani from listening to the proceedings against him at his preliminary hearing.
“Early in the preliminary hearing, Baucum noted that Cipriani and a journalist had been trying to listen to the hearing through BlueJeans, the court’s video call service, but were removed from the hearing after not identifying themselves in the online application,” the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives criminal defendants the right to be present at trial and to confront witnesses.
This reporter, identified by name on the screen, was permitted to view court proceedings for two and a half hours before being disconnected when Cipriani’s hearing began.
Chief Justice of the Peace Melissa Saragosa, who oversees Justice Court, said in a phone interview Friday a defendant’s right to attend proceedings against him is “so fundamental” to the criminal justice system.
“They noted in the minutes the defendant failed to appear, but that seems inconsistent with (Baucum’s) comment on the record that there was a media representative and the defendant on Blue Jeans saying they were cut off,” Saragosa said. “So I’ve got to find out what actually happened.”
She says she’s unaware of any identification requirements but says each judge is imposing their own rules as COVID-era orders governing Blue Jeans have expired, and courts are “in limbo” waiting for the Supreme Court to issue rules going forward.
“I want to make sure that we’re properly training our clerks” she said, promising to address the issue in the meantime.
“I can’t imagine a valid reason for excluding either the defendant or the media from listening to the hearing,” said attorney Maggie McLetchie, who specializes in protecting free speech. “The First Amendment provides for a right to court access. In this day and age, that often means via digital means, and there’s no reason why reporters shouldn’t be able to listen, and any member of the public shouldn’t be able to listen in.”
Baucum revoked Cipriani’s bail, according to the RJ, saying court minutes indicated he was “ordered not to use Twitter at all.” But the state’s own motion said Cipriani was only prohibited from “posting harassing, intimidating, and threatening social media and email posts/communications.”
Cipriani says the “sham of a hearing proves” that Gardner, the Resorts World attorney, along with attorneys David Chesnoff and Richard Schonfeld, who were investors in Alexander’s online gaming company, “are directing DA Steve Wolfson to file more bogus charges against me in an effort to silence me and railroad me in the corrupt Las Vegas justice system.” The attorneys did not respond to a request for comment.
Cipriani is also alleged on Nov. 19, the day of his arrest, to have changed his bet during a blackjack hand.
In late January, Wolfson was poised to let Cipriani off the hook.
“They agreed to drop the charges,” Cipriani’s attorney at the time, Tony Sgro, wrote via email to his client on Feb. 3.
“By then your story came out,” Cipriani said, and Wolfson reneged on the agreement to drop the charges. Cipriani alleges Wolfson retaliated against him for speaking to media.
The DA subsequently offered a variety of plea deals, all of which required Cipriani to refrain from talking on social media about Resorts World Las Vegas, its executives and vendors.
The DA ultimately agreed to let Cipriani plead guilty to a single misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge and accept the restrictions on his speech.
Cipriani says he declined to accept the deal, given the disconnect between his alleged offense and the restrictions on social media, and opted to proceed to a preliminary hearing.
In March, Baucum ordered Cipriani to appear in person for the April 7 preliminary hearing. Cipriani says his attorney at the time, Sgro, failed to provide the judge with a motion filed with Justice Court in December indicating Cipriani cannot travel. Sgro subsequently withdrew from Cipriani’s case, a week before the preliminary hearing.
Sgro declined to comment, citing attorney-client privilege.
At the hearing Thursday, the prosecution, referencing Alexander’s cell phone, asked to add robbery to the larceny charge against Cipriani. Baucum agreed. She also added an enhancement to the charges against Cipriani by deeming his alleged victim a vulnerable person.
Cipriani says the new charges four and half months after his arrest are the result of his refusal to accept the plea deal.
He says he’s asking Attorney General Aaron Ford “to open a full investigation into conflicts of interest and collusion” among Wolfson, Gardner, Chesnoff and Schonfeld.
A source close to the case says Cipriani is exploring legal remedies, including filing a suit against the DA for vindictive prosecution.
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